By Rich Kurtzman
When the Chargers and Broncos meet this Monday Night in San Diego, the AFC West lead will be on the line.
In fact, one of these two teams have won seven of the last eight division titles, with San Diego being crowned five of those.
For Denver, a win this week is not only important because it would give them an early division lead, but it would also keep the team from falling to 2-4 before the bye week. A Broncos victory would put both teams at 3-3 with the men from the Mile High City holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Despite being build around the run in recent years, both the Broncos and Chargers depend on their passing game much more this season.
Phillip Rivers leads the offense as San Diego’s signal caller and he continues to do well despite personnel changes. Rivers—who’s been a thorn in the side of Denver for nearly a decade—lost his top receiver when Vincent Jackson signed with Tampa Bay. But he’s adapted and Malcom Floyd has grown as a wideout this year. Floyd has emerged as Rivers’ No. 1 option, catching a team-leading 20 balls for 358 yards and one score. Of course, long-time Bronco-killer Antonio Gates is still a viable option, while former Denver receiver Eddie Royal has a receiving touchdown too. The biggest surprise is former Broncos tight end Dante Rosario, who leads the team with three receiving scores.
Rivers’ 67.9 completion percentage is a career-high, though, while he’s thrown for eight touchdowns, he’s also turned the ball over eight times total (five interceptions, three fumbles). The Denver defensive line must apply pressure to Rivers, and more players than second-year sensation Von Miller, who has five sacks already. That means Elvis Dumervil needs to step up, as does the long list of rotational interior lineman including rookie Derek Wolfe. Also key Monday is Denver’s secondary play and while corners Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter have been solid in coverage, safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore have left a lot to be desired. If the safeties don’t pay attention all game long, Rivers could burn them deep.
On the Broncos’ side of the ball is Peyton Manning, unarguably the better quarterback this season to date. Manning is in the top five of passer rating (101.0), completions (130), yards (1,507) and touchdowns (11), while only throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball away once. Manning’s been masterful in the Mile High City, connecting with 11 total receivers, spreading the ball around very well while limiting turnovers.
Demaryius Thomas has become the top receiver, with 30 catches for 505 yards and two scores, using his size, speed and athleticism to run away from opponents and downfield. Eric Decker is close behind with 28 grabs, while six Denver receivers have 11 or more catches.
The Chargers’ 3-4 defense is athletic, featuring outside linebacker Shaun Phillips with 4.5 sacks, safety Atari Bigby who leads the team in tackles with 27 and the venerable Quentin Jammer at corner.
This is a matchup for the ages; close teams, with similar makeups that will have to determine the outcome on the gridiron Monday. The stage is set for a big-time division battle and it could be a high-scoring contest. The Chargers lead 7-3 over the teams’ last 10 meetings.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.